An “extremely dangerous and record-breaking” heat wave is gripping much of the U.S., affecting approximately 134 million people, according to the National Weather Service.

Regions expected to experience temperatures exceeding 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32 degrees Celsius) or even reaching triple digits (well above 37 degrees Celsius) include nearly the entire West Coast, the southern Plains, most of the lower Mississippi Valley extending into the Ohio Valley, and portions of Florida, stated Bob Oravec, a lead forecaster with the National Weather Service.

The Pacific Northwest will witness a surge in temperatures later in the weekend. Arizona will continue to swelter as firefighters battle a wildfire near Phoenix, where some individuals are dealing with burns from scorching hot asphalt, concrete, or other surfaces. Meanwhile, more humid areas will experience a muggy weekend.

“If it’s both humid and hot, you can’t really rely on sweat to cool you down to a safe level,” explained Daniel Swain, a climate scientist affiliated with the University of California, Los Angeles.

This dangerous weather pattern coincides with wildfires raging in northern California, arriving just in time for a holiday weekend. As people celebrate, “it’s very easy to get sidetracked,” staying out for extended periods and neglecting to stay hydrated, remarked Chris Stachelski, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. “And then all of a sudden you’re putting yourself more at risk.”

Human-induced climate change is contributing to longer and more intense heat waves. Although more research is required to directly link this specific event to climate change, Swain wasn’t surprised by the weekend forecast, considering the overall trend. Nonetheless, he acknowledged, “the pace of record breaking heat extremes and precipitation extremes is becoming a little bit overwhelming.”

The anticipated duration, widespread impact, and high overnight temperatures associated with this heat wave amplify the risks to public health. “I think this heat wave may end up being more consequential, more dangerous, and more record breaking in many cases than the heat waves that produce those slightly higher temperatures,” Swain asserted.

Stachelski added that even after the peak temperatures subside, heat can remain a danger, particularly for vulnerable populations — the young, elderly, and those lacking access to air conditioning.

Experts urge individuals to consume ample water and seek out air-conditioned environments. Big Sur State Parks employed Sabrina Carpenter lyrics to implore hikers to “please, please, please” avoid caffeine and alcohol, wear sun protection, and familiarize themselves with trail routes in advance.

The prolonged high temperatures baking the West Coast will also desiccate vegetation, setting the stage for a more severe fire season in the remaining months, Swain noted.

“Heat is an underrated killer,” Swain emphasized, referencing both the immediate threat posed by heat waves like the current one and the broader trends of global warming. “It’s one we’ve long underestimated. And I think we continue to do so at our peril.”